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Ashes of Arnhem veterans laid alongside comrades in Dutch cemetery

Dennis Collier, 95, and Steve Morgan, 93, both fought in the ill-fated Operation Market Garden in September 1944.

Family and friends of Steve Morgan at the interment service (Steve Parsons/PA)
Family and friends of Steve Morgan at the interment service (Steve Parsons/PA)

By Tom Pilgrim, PA

The ashes of two veterans of the Battle of Arnhem have been laid to rest alongside their fallen comrades buried in the Dutch city.

Relatives of Dennis Collier, 95, and Steve Morgan, 93, travelled to the Netherlands to see the Second World War heroes’ remains interred at Oosterbeek War Cemetery on Friday.

The pair had fought and survived capture in the ill-fated Operation Market Garden in September 1944, the largest airborne assault in history.

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(PA Graphics)

In two moving ceremonies, tributes were paid to the veterans before wreaths were laid, prayers said, and the last post sounded by a lone bugler.

The remains of Mr Collier, from Harrogate, North Yorkshire, were earlier parachuted out of a Dakota aircraft, as a way of honouring his last unfulfilled wish of jumping out over Arnhem once again.

His tearful daughter Julie Addle, 58, said: “He would have absolutely loved this. He came here every year.

“To me he’s just dad,” she said, describing her father as a “strong character” who remained humble until his death.

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Steve Morgan fought alongside John Grayburn (Steve Parsons/PA)

She added: “We had an allotment and he used to say you can chuck my Ashes on the muck heap.”

Mr Collier’s longstanding friend Dave Petfield, 61, from Bedale in North Yorkshire, said: “He spoke very little about [the war], my dad was the same.

“I don’t think they wanted to reflect back on it.”

Mr Petfield, who helped arrange the parachute drop of his friend’s ashes, added: “It’s all he wanted to do was his last jump.

“The service would have been a bonus for him to be with his pals.”

Reverend Dr Jeff Cuttell told the crowd gathered at Mr Collier’s service that the veteran had landed at Arnhem on the second day of Operation Market Garden and went straight into bloody fighting.

When asked what the battle was like, Mr Collier previously commented: “Well I’m the same as everybody else to be quite honest, I was terrified. Anybody who said they weren’t are liars.”

He and troops in the 156 Parachute Battalion were involved in desperate street to street fighting until their ammunition and supplies ran low.

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The family and friends of the soldiers travelled to the Dutch cemetery (Steve Parsons/PA)

Mr Collier was injured, captured and transported by train to a German prisoner of war hard labour camp.

When he was later liberated by the Russians he weighed just over seven stone, with prisoners having survived on boiling grass and dock leaves.

On his return to the UK he later worked as a farmer up until he was 85, and only gave up his allotment aged 93.

Mr Morgan’s niece Debbie Betts, 60, who lived near him at Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, said her uncle had wanted to be buried alongside his fallen fellow soldiers in Arnhem.

“There is a special bond with them all,” she said. “What got to him was the waste of British and other allied human life.”

Mr Morgan’s remains were interred by Annemieke Waninge-Riksen, 31, from Oosterbeek, a Dutch friend who wore a Second World War British Auxiliary Territorial Service uniform for the occasion.

Those watching his service heard how the 2nd Parachute Battalion soldier had been involved in the fierce and ultimately unsuccessful fight to defend a British position on Arnhem bridge over the river Rhine.

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Flowers from nearby Ginkel Heath were placed at the Stone of Friendship outside the Hartenstein Museum near Arnhem (Steve Parsons/PA)

After coming under tank fire, he crawled under the bridge as his fellow soldiers died or were injured around him.

He was ultimately left fighting alongside one other man, John Grayburn, who was later posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Tragically, Mr Morgan, who was aged just 19 during the battle, had been unable to retrieve the body of the man he admired.

He was captured and imprisoned by the Germans, later escaping to safety with the help of American troops.

Ms Betts said: “I asked him what was it like to be in that building when a tank fired a shell through the wall hoping to hear something like the noise was tremendous… he said ‘put it this way tanks don’t go pop’.”

The interment of Mr Collier and Mr Morgan is a rare break from the traditions of cemeteries managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

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Veterans from the battle also attended the cemetery (Steve Parsons/PA)

A spokeswoman said: “Ashes of ex-comrades are not normally accepted, but an exception is made for Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery, and a small number of our other Second World War sites, where this has always been an established tradition – because of the unique nature of the campaign or the peculiarly close bond between those who served and fought there.”

Earlier on Friday morning, a short service was held at the Stone of Friendship memorial at Hartenstein museum in Arnhem that pays tribute to the civilians who helped wounded and battling allied soldiers during the war.

Lieutenant Colonel Liam Cradden, currently serving in the Parachute Regiment, laid flowers from Ginkel Heath, site of the Operation Market Garden drop zones, as a crowd of Dutch, Polish, American and British civilians, soldiers and children looked on.

He said: “There isn’t a paratrooper in the British Army that doesn’t understand inside out what Arnhem means.

“It’s just our way of saying thank-you and remembering people and what they did for all of us.”

On Friday evening, a wreath laying service will be held near the bridge in Arnhem city centre before a public musical and visual show tells the story of the fateful battle that took place 75 years ago.

PA

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